In my last post I talked about my struggle with contempt and shame. In this post, I would like to dig more into shame because it ultimately turns into contempt. I would like to discuss the difference between legitimate shame and illegitimate shame. I pray this will be helpful information to those of you who struggle in this area.
First of all, everyone experiences shame. When you get in trouble for something you have done, you feel shame. When you say words you know you shouldn’t have said, you feel shame. When you do something you have been told not to do, you feel shame. These are examples of legitimate shame. Legitimate shame is about what you do. Most of us don’t use the word shame—we use the word guilt.
The next form of shame is a little trickier to discern. “Illegitimate shame is an identity issue that attacks our being. It comes from believing lies about ourselves that have been verbally and nonverbally communicated to us through the actions and responses of others. Illegitimate shame attacks our personal dignity and fills us with shame messages: You are worthless, dirty, perverted, stupid, ugly and unwanted. These shame messages contradict what Christ says is true of us: You are loved, accepted and forgiven. No amount of wrongdoing inflicted by others or chosen by yourself will ever rob you of your God-given dignity. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Journey Begins workbook
I have struggled with both types of shame, but the one that has done the most damage is illegitimate shame. This type of shame attached itself to me when I was little for several reasons. I had a father who was spewing lies from his mouth that attacked my dignity. Those messages made me feel stupid and because I didn’t have anyone to protect me, I felt unworthy.
Let me share some truth with you. “Because we are created in God’s image, we have inherent dignity. As image bearers who reflect our creator, we are beautiful and glorious. We long to be seen, known, loved, honored and desired. God gifted us with talents, longing, intelligence and emotions. He allows us to rule and create. We are permanently marked with the indelible ink of God’s image.” The Journey Begins workbook
I might do stupid things, but that doesn’t make me stupid. When I say that I am stupid I am committing violence to myself. I want to quit calling myself stupid because I am an image bearer of God. Is He stupid? No! He has gifted me with talents and intelligence. He values me. Here’s a question for you. Do you value yourself, or do you constantly put yourself down?
When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see a valued child of God or do you see all the flaws and wrinkles you have? Do you pick at what you see? (I really struggle in this area). I look in the mirror and think, “Yikes!! Where did that 20 year old go?” I need to realize that I am valued by God. Shame has made me look at all the flaws and not the beauty. You know that saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Well, God thinks I am beautiful because He created me. He gave me characteristics that make me unique. I am one of a kind and so are you!
Let me ask you a question. “What makes you feel shame?” Is it something you did or do you feel shame from something someone else did? “Shame is based on what you think, not necessarily what is true. Your experience of shame is subjective. What causes shame for one person may not elicit the same response from another.” The Journey Begins workbook
Each one of us has a story. My story will be different than yours because my experience with shame is different than yours. There are things that happened to me that didn’t happen to you. We need to value one another’s story. We need to listen and support one another because that person has value and so do you!
“People’s stories reveal how shame has woven itself into their definition of themselves as human beings.” The Journey Begins workbook How many times have we said to someone else, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” We usually say those words because we see something different in that person than they do. We are trying to help that person see the good that we see. Remember shame is based on what we think, not necessarily on what is true.
For example, I know I have said to my friends or family many times that I was stupid because my shame made me feel stupid. Let me share something that I read from Lysa Terkeurst. “We’re all living out a story, but then there’s the story we are telling ourselves. We just need to make sure we’re telling ourselves the right story.” AMEN!!!
If we keep telling ourselves the wrong story, then our shame will develop into contempt. And contempt can cause so much harm to ourselves and others. We have to stop the violence to ourselves and others before it gets so destructive.
I have been journaling a lot lately over these issues. I remembered something from my childhood. I remembered a look on my father’s face. His brow was furrowed and his eyes were full of contempt. That look was a very angry scowl. He didn’t need to say a word. I knew what that look meant. I knew trouble was coming. So, I took on the responsibility of doing whatever I could to get that look off his face. I spent most of my life trying to get that look off his face. That look did as much damage as his words or actions did.
When he had that look, I believed I had done something wrong, whether I had or not. I hated that look. And when I couldn’t get it to go away, I felt stupid for not being able to do so. This was a vicious cycle that I put myself in every single day. I felt like a failure which led to so many other things. “Illegitimate shame is one of evil’s most efficient weapons. A few moments of gripping shame can create a lifetime of toxic inner turmoil.” The Journey Begins workbook
And let me tell you that I have had a lifetime of toxic inner turmoil!!! I don’t want that for anyone. I have allowed other people to control me just by the look on their faces. (I am not kidding!) Shame has made me do that most of my life. I am slowly learning that it isn’t my responsibility to take the scowl off people’s faces.
“Shame shrinks us, silences us and numbs us. Whether shame exposes areas you are trying to fix though your own methods, or it exposes where you carry shame messages that came through harm done to you, God offers hope by His abundant grace, mercy and love. God is the only one who can forgive us and relieve us of our guilt. He is the only one who can heal us and remind us of the dignity He bestowed on us. This is a powerful message of hope.” The Journey Begins workbook
I couldn’t believe it when I read this next part. (God is so good!) “Rather than allowing shame to shrink and silence us or to make us brazen and harsh, will we allow God to enter it with us? Shame takes away our faces, our joy of living out the strength and tenderness of God.” The Journey Begins workbook
Do you see that phrase in bold letters? Do you see that word face??? I was working so hard to take the scowl off of everyone else and didn’t realize I was losing my face (myself) in the process.
Let me end by saying that I have found great joy from inviting the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into healing me from shame. I can finally see the look of love and acceptance on their faces. I am beginning to see myself as a valued and deeply loved child of God. It feels so good to share my feelings with them.
I really want to encourage you to invite God into your shame. You won’t be sorry! He gives healing and hope. You will see the tenderness of God. He will help you! He does not condemn you. He brings freedom and forgiveness. He is safe. There are some verses in Jeremiah that have meant a lot to me that I would like to end with. His words are true! He will take you out of your captivity of shame.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”
Until next time friends. This is my journey to joy!